By Khalifa Hemed
Published October 22, 2017
A report that looks at the challenge of providing healthy diets in urban environments has been launched.
The report, by Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, comes at a time when it is projected that an additional 2.5 billion people in Africa and Asia will live in urban areas by 2050 when 66% of the world’s population shall be urban. This growth shall, no doubt, lead to a growing crisis of malnutrition.
Without coordinated efforts by policymakers, malnutrition shall become a crisis, especially in low and middle-income countries where urban dwellers do not consume enough basic calories, lack sufficient micronutrients, or suffer from being overweight or obese with associated diet-related non-communicable diseases, leading to a ‘triple burden of urban malnutrition’.
The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition calls for the integration of food, agriculture and nutrition into urban planning alongside education, health, sanitation, water and infrastructure development.
“There is an urgent need for better urban governance around food, nutrition and health”, says Akinwumi Adesina, President of African Development Bank and winner of the World Food Prize 2017. “Urban populations need improved information on how to live well by eating well.”
The report, titled ‘Urban Diets and Nutrition: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities for Policy Action”, pays special attention to what the experts describe as the growing threat of diet-related non-communicable disease.
The food experts argue that greater wealth in urban centres, relative to rural areas, does not necessarily lead to healthier diets, with excessive consumption of highly-processed foods that are high in calories but low in nutrients.
“Within complex, diverse urban environments, poor dietary choices could create a further financial burden, with rising levels of overweight or obesity generating increases in the health care costs associated with non-communicable diseases, ” says Emmy Simmons, a Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former Assistant Administrator with United States Agency for International Development (USAid).
The eight recommendations in the brief call for a wider policy approach which integrates actions from food, agriculture and nutrition into urban planning, education, health, sanitation, water and infrastructure development. It will also require a shift in attitudes towards the informal food sector and the collection of better data on urban diets.
The report shows how policymakers at the local level need to champion better diets and nutrition, but this requires them to be both mandated and empowered to act.
Tom Arnold, Former Director General of the Institute of International and European Affairs, argues that these “public policymakers need to recognise that productivity, quality of life and life expectancy in urban areas will revolve around healthy diets and lifestyles.”